Visitors to the NASA Kennedy Space Center in Florida can now use a special walkway to generate clean power while walking.
The visitor complex of the NASA Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida has opened a new high-tech walkway to welcome visitors. It is formed with a special tile system, developed by the Georgia Institute of Technology, that allows for electricity and smart application data to be generated every time one of its tiles is stepped upon.
Each hexagonal tile contains six small solar cells, a battery, LEDs, Bluetooth and WiFi as well as the so-called ‘piezoelectric element’, a component which generates an electrical voltage under pressure (piezo being the ancient Greek for pressing or pushing). That means that electricity is generated both by sunlight and simply by walking on the path, and whatever energy isn't used straight away can also be stored for later. And the tiles aren’t too bad to look at either. The top of each tile is made of coloured glass, meaning they can ba arranged in colourful patterns and images. They even light up when they're stepped on. At the Kennedy Space Center, visitors can pace over mosaics of Earth, Mars, the Moon and the International Space Station.
And that's not all - each time a piezoelectric tile is stepped upon, it also sends information about the Space Center to the ‘steppers’ smartphone via Bluetooth or WiFi. In the Space Center, it plays audio which gives geolocational information or explains how much energy is being generated. Although a fun experience for the visitor, this kind of real-time information feedback could have major consequences for the emerging ‘internet of things’ and smart cities of the future.
For example, pressure-sensitive systems similar to these piezoelectric-tiles could provide useful services, such as traffic, road and navigational information to smart cars, as well as generating electricity for street and traffic lights. Furthermore, due to their modular design and the fact each tile is individually powered, a system of panels would be easy to maintain and resistant to any kind of system-wide failure.
With the Space Center project costing around 2 million USD for 3,7000 square meters, the installation of such a system citywide would not be cheap, as well as requiring extensive and potentially disruptive construction projects. However, regardless of its current prototype status, the concept of turning all the energy we would otherwise ‘waste’ while walking and driving into a clean, renewable energy source could be truly revolutionary.This is a translation by Mark Newton of an article which originally appeared on RESET's German-language site.